Monday, September 17, 2012

Building Leaders

Many leaders spend so much time running defense and managing from crisis to crisis, they've become blind to the fact that the leadership abilities of their team members are untapped and languishing.  The more they do themselves, the less they teach their team, the less engaged the team becomes.  The performance results follow the same downward cycle.
So managers complain that the weight of the world falls on their lap and employees complain that their bosses are over-involved, controlling, and horde opportunities to shine in the organization.  Not surprisingly, leaders are frustrated and burned out at the same time team members are uninspired and underperforming. Most individual contributors are capable of far greater leadership potential than they demonstrate (perhaps even more than they themselves may believe possible).  The catch is, oftentimes someone else has to have the patient attention to look for it, nourish it, and expect it from them.
It is our responsibility and our privilege to cultivate and call upon leadership qualities in each member of our team.  What sort of qualities should we be grooming? Problem solving beyond their scope of responsibility; holding themselves and other team members accountable; being outspoken and honest about their thoughts, opinions, and ideas; searching for solutions, not just someone to pin the blame on; taking ownership of projects or problems before they are asked to do so; moving from "why me?" to "because I can".  
Building leaders is not something that happens by default - it can only happen by design. Consider these strategies to raise the leadership quotient in your team:
Encourage and expect contrary thinking.  Settle for yes's and nods and that's all you'll get.  Great leaders don't want echoes, they want fresh perspective.  Practice ending meetings with "So, how would you approach this differently?", "Walk me through the pros and cons as you see it", "What are some other ideas we can come up with together?"
Role play the "If it were your decision to make how would you handle it?" problem solving scenario.  How would they see it if it were them at the helm and not you?  Would they become more engaged if they felt you would follow their advice?  Would they care more about the end result if they shared in the accountability?
Question everything that is delegated up to you.  Watch that you don't fall into the common leadership temptation of feeling you aren't doing your job unless you are fixing other people's problems.  This is a subtle yet powerful dynamic that allows many employees to shirk responsibility by taking advantage of their leader's need-to-be-needed.  Do they really need you to get involved or does it just make it easier on them?
Build teamwork by facilitating inter-team conflict resolution.  Encourage team members to conquer conflict head on with each other instead of making you the referee.  Check their skill level in this area first.  When you're beginning to build leaders, it is important to be involved so you can assess the current conflict management skills in your team and identify areas where they need further skill building.  Provide them the necessary training through workshops or one-on-one coaching.  Then, be consistent in empowering them to face it and fix it on their own.
Assign high-visibility projects to team members based on special talents.  Provide equal opportunity to projects that allow employees to learn new skills, work in an area of interest, or have visibility that will help move their career along.  Ask an employee who is in need of a particular learning opportunity to partner with you on a project.
Autopsy successes and failures as a team.  Make this a standard practice in a special team meeting and take each member through the "My role in this was ___" exercise.  Make sure you go first.  Accountability is a learned behavior that starts at the top.
Conduct regular Problem Exploration Meetings to analyze, investigate, and solve issues that plague your department or organization.  Teach your team to focus on CAPABILITY instead of RESPONSIBILITY.  Help them think critically about problems that they may not be responsible to solve but are capable of solving.  This approach builds global leadership skills that will extend far beyond their narrow job scope.
NEVER allow victim thinking.  Challenge powerless statements and realign their focus from others behavior to their own influence over the situation. 
Get ready to start sharing the floor.  Some bosses will have to peel their hands off the reigns while others will happily pass the leadership torch around.  Either way, if you are consistent in patiently employing these strategies and modeling these behaviors yourself, you might just be surprised to learn what your team is capable of.  You can build leaders at every level, jumpstarting a contagious environment of personal accountability.  And just imagine how much better your job will be when you can actually spend time doing the things you enjoy. 
 Leadership is a renewable resource and worth the investment.  Tap into it now.